Lafferty challenges political establishment in run for governor

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Laurel resident Lacey Lafferty, 54. a former state trooper, has been running for governor since 2013. (Submitted photos)

DOVER — She’s a former Democrat who believes the state needs to move back to the right and away from what she sees as unnecessary taxes, government entitlement and career politicians.

The former state police trooper has no prior political experience but brags “your tax dollars hired me, trained me to be a problem-solver and a negotiator.”

She says she’s so committed to running for office, she’s spent tens of thousands in her own money.

She’s an outsider but is fully confident she can defeat first a state senator and then a U.S. congressman for governor in 2016.

Delaware, meet Lacey Lafferty.

Ms. Lafferty, 54, is running for governor next year as a Republican, and despite what may appear to be long odds, she is undaunted.

She has been campaigning for governor since 2013 — a full three years before the election.

At Return Day 2014, she spoke of her plans to defeat the “Biden machine,” back when it appeared the late Attorney General Beau Biden would be the Democratic nominee for governor.

Although U.S. Rep. John Carney has now become the presumptive Democratic candidate, and the overall favorite, nothing has changed in Ms. Lafferty’s mind.

She speaks of a political revolution of sorts, where longtime elected officials are voted out and the masses choose someone much more in line with their way of thinking.

“It’s just not your career politicians,” she said. “I want people to have that choice. They know they’re not voting for the lesser of two evils. This is their movement.”

A native of Sussex County, Ms. Lafferty is a retired state trooper with agricultural roots. Prior to embarking on a 13-year police career, she owned a farming and trucking operation. She joined the Delaware State Police in 1995, working 13 years as a patrol officer in Sussex before retiring due to hearing loss. She now raises Standardbred horses.

Unabashedly outspoken, she has threatened to sue a blogger for posting alleged defamatory remarks.

She said she is unafraid of criticism and may file suit because of the claims being false, not because they castigate her.

“This is child’s play to me,” she said of being criticized.

Ideology

Though Ms. Lafferty now describes herself as a dedicated conservative, she was a Democrat 25 years ago. She switched her party affiliation when friend M. Jane Brady, a Republican, ran for attorney general in 1994.

Today, she firmly believes the people of Delaware need a negotiator committed to the principles on which the United States was founded. Her website informs visitors she is a descendant of Declaration of Independence signer John

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Possible future opponents U.S. Rep. John Carney, D-Del., and Lacey Lafferty pose for a photo.

Morton and says she “was hardwired from birth to defend” the nation’s core values.

She hails from Laurel, located in the southwest corner of Sussex County — the most conservative portion of Delaware. Despite running on conservative principles in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 307,000 to 181,000, Ms. Lafferty does not see herself as an outsider and says she fully expects to win.

“I’m not in the minority here, I’m in the majority,” she said.

In fact, she said, she has heard from many Democrats who plan to vote for her, even changing their registration to show their support in the primary election.

There’s a lot wrong with the First State today, she says, ranging from unnecessary gun restrictions, business-dampening taxation and a welfare state.

“Even liberals that I have talked to think the progressive liberals have gone so far to the left they can’t agree with what they’re doing,” she said. “That tells you a lot.”

She points to the recent situation with refugees, where several dozen mostly Republican governors have called for the federal government to halt immigration from Syria in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks. In contrast, some Democratic governors, including Delaware’s Jack Markell, have said they would welcome the refugees.

Citing the United States’ response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Ms. Lafferty argued then-President George W. Bush made mistakes but “took the fight to them on their dirt instead of bringing it here and having it on our dirt.”

The state has too many problems of its own, she said, and should focus on improving its economy rather than creating “more government entitlement.”

She believes welfare recipients should have to take regular drug tests, perform monthly community service and be actively searching for work to receive benefits. She touts a similar system overhaul put forth by Maine Gov. Paul LePage.

“As long as they’re getting free food and free housing they’re not going to work,” Ms. Lafferty said.

She also is in favor of lower spending and lower taxes, common Republican arguments that divided the General Assembly this past session.

Officials need to reduce red tape and lower taxes to spark business, she said.

She is also a firm supporter of the Second Amendment, arguing the existing regulations are enough and people need to be able to protect themselves for when the police cannot.

“As governor, I won’t sign any more gun control,” she said.

To her, Delaware’s main ills are based in economic issues, not social ones.

Past and future

There is a history of newcomers having success in politics in recent years, especially in Delaware. Tea party favorite Christine O’Donnell stunned former governor and U.S. Rep. Mike Castle in the Republican primary in the 2010 U.S. Senate race before losing in the general election.

Ms. O’Donnell won in 2010, Ms. Lafferty believes, because conservatives came out and supported their interests.

However, while Mr. Castle was a moderate Republican, Ms. Lafferty’s primary opponent, state Sen. Bonini, can hardly be knocked as middle-of-the-road. Sen. Bonini, who represents the Dover area, is one of the most conservative members of the General Assembly, particularly in regard to state spending and taxation.

Nonetheless, Ms. Lafferty believes she is the only candidate who can defeat Rep. Carney in the general election.

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rom left, 2014 Delaware House of Representatives candidate James Startzman, Lacey Lafferty and 2014 U.S. Senate candidate Kevin Wade.

Sen. Bonini, for his part, said he likes his opponent and is looking forward to the race but remains confident. Sussex County GOP Chairman Billy Carroll said he is excited to have a Sussex resident in the race and thinks many voters will be pleased to see a woman running.

State chairman Charlie Copeland said the Republican Party has a good chance to win the governor’s offive, which the party hasn’t held since 1992.

Ms. Lafferty said she has full certainty her background and convictions make her the best choice for the state’s top office.

“I don’t know of anybody else that can do that like me,” she said.

In fact, it’s that desire to gain insight and know-how that led her to join the Delaware State Police, she said.

While Ms. Lafferty may lack political experience, that has not stopped presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ben Carson. Mr. Trump, a businessman, and Mr. Carson, a former neurosurgeon, are at the top of every Republican primary poll, despite their lack of governmental experience — or perhaps because of it.

That theme, that an outsider is not only not disadvantaged but is in fact aided by his or her newcomer status, is one Ms. Lafferty frequently repeats.

“They’re sick to death of career politicians. They want a change,” she said. “They’ve had enough of this progressive liberalism. It’s not working.”

Ms. Lafferty acknowledges Rep. Carney and Sen. Bonini are likely to outraise and outspend her but argues “it doesn’t cost one dime to get a vote.” She claimed to have spent about $50,000 in the past two-plus years, most of it coming from her own pockets.

“How can I expect the people to donate their money if I’m not willing to donate my own?” she said.

She said she has been running radio and newspaper ads and frequently attending community events, such as the Delaware State Fair, and she cited walks across both the length and width of the state as evidence of her commitment.

“I know I can take this to the inauguration,” she said. “I know these people from one-on-one conversations I’ve had throughout the state.”

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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